USB C refers solely the shape of a 24 pin connector which can be either a plug or receptacle. The connector has more pins than past USB shapes (like A and micro B) so it can charge devices and transfer your data incredibly quickly. The main purpose that USB C was created for was to do away with all the various cables and adapters to make a more universal solution for both charging and data transfer.
As mentioned earlier, USB C refers to the shape of a 24 pin connector. Just because a cable is USB C doesn’t mean it supports a specific power, transfer speed or protocol. For example, if a cable is USB C it could be USB 3.1 (fast data transfer), 2.0 (slower data transfer) or a different specification.
- Backwards compatibility. Most older cables had a host side (USB B) and a device side (Micro B). USB C has dual role and is reversible. This means it can transfer power and data both ways.
- Some cables can transfer large amounts of wattage to power monitors or laptops.
- USB C can operate in alternate modes such as DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, HDMI or USB 3.1.
- The cable has a great interoperability meaning it is highly supported by many well trusted organizations and is becoming a common feature for many devices.
The comparison of these two laptops show a large advantage for devices with just a couple USB C ports vs older models with many different ports and connectors. Not only is space saved with USB C ports, the amount of cables to keep track of for different purposes (HDMI, VGA etc...) is drastically reduced. On the flip side, until USB C becomes more standard, many hubs and adapters will be needed to connect older devices to USB C ports.
left image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/usb-hdmi-vga-1394-lan-laptop-1884/
right image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/macbook-pro-2016-adapter-usb-c-2381729/
A USB C cable has the potential to hold some or more of these features:
- Device charging
- Monitor and laptop power
- Fast data transfer - up to 40 Gbps (Thunderbolt 3)
- Audio support
- HDMI - see this hdmi.org page
- DisplayPort - see this displayport.org page
- MHL (Mobile High-Definition) - see a good explanation on Wikipedia
- Thunderbolt 3 - see this Digital Trends article
Again, these features are cable specific, meaning any given USB C cable may not have some of these features. On the other hand, the vast majority of cables can transfer data and charge devices.
The next section will cover the many different USB C cable types and how to select a cable to use for specific features.